The Phoenix Park: Things To Do, History, Parking + Toilets

phoenix park walks
Photos via Shutterstock

A visit to the Phoenix Park is arguably one of the best things to do in Dublin.

Often referred to as the place ‘where Dubliners go to breathe’, the Phoenix Park is one of the biggest enclosed public parks in any capital city in Europe.

And, as you can imagine, there is plenty to do here – from renting a bike, to seeing the deer to visiting the zoo and more.

Below, you’ll find info on everything from parking and where to find the deer (it can be tricky!) to what to see and do in the park.

Some quick need-to-knows about the Phoenix Park

Although a visit to the Phoenix Park is fairly straightforward, there are a few need-to-knows that’ll make your visit that bit more enjoyable.

1. Location

The park lies some two to four kilometres west of Dublin city centre and north of the River Liffey. It has several different entrances (you can see the main ones on this map).

2. Parking

There are a number of spots for parking in the Phoenix Park, depending on which gate you’re coming in through. Personally, I always go for this one at the Papal Cross, as it’s rare you won’t get a spot (there’s also another two parking areas next to it here and here).

3. Getting here by public transport

Luckily, there are also plenty of public transport options for getting to Phoenix Park. By bus, there are plenty of bus routes to and from the outskirts of the park. For trains, Heuston Station is only a short walk from Parkgate Street (info here).

4. Toilets

The Phoenix Park was always terrible for toilets, however, in 2021, a number of portaloos were added to the parking area next to the Papal Cross. About time, too!

5. Lions, Deer and the President

Wild deer roam freely here, but you must not feed or touch them as you will put them in danger, and it is advised to always stay 50 metres away from them. The Phoenix Park is home to a variety of institutions including Dublin Zoo, where you will see the lions, and Áras an Uachtaráin, the residence of the President of Ireland.

6. The cafes

You have the choice of two places to eat within the park – the Victorian Tearooms and the Phoenix Café. The former is near to the zoo and is situated within a beautiful building that has inspired many artists and film-makers. The award-winning Phoenix Café can be found in the ground of the Visitor Centre.

A brief history of the Phoenix Park in Dublin

aras an uachtarain phoenix park
Photos via Shutterstock

After the Normans conquered Dublin in the 12th century, Hugh Tyrrel, the 1st Baron of Castleknock, granted land, including what is now the Phoenix Park, to the Knights Hospitaller.

They established an abbey at Kilmainham. Following the dissolution of the monasteries by the English Henry VIII, the knights lost the land, which reverted to the monarch’s representatives in Ireland some 80 years later.

Restoration

When Charles II was restored to the throne, his viceroy in Dublin, the Duke of Ormond establish a royal hunting park, some 2,000 acres in size.

The Park contained pheasants and wild deer and needed to be enclosed. Later, a Royal Hospital for veterans was built at Kilmainham and the park was reduced to its current size of 1,750 acres.

Later years

The Earl of Chesterfield opened the park to the public in 1745. Landscapers improved the parks public areas in the 19th century.

In 1882, the infamous Phoenix Park murders took place when a group calling itself the Irish National Invincibles stabbed the then Chief Secretary for Ireland and the Under Secretary for Ireland to death.

Things to do in the Phoenix Park

There are heaps of things to do in the Phoenix Park, from walks and the Zoo to historical sites, monuments and more.

Below, you’ll find info on everything from the various Phoenix Park walks and where to rent bikes to a couple of indoor attractions. 

1. Phoenix Park walks

Phoenix Park map with walks
Map via the Phoenix Park (high res version here)

The Phoenix Park is home to some of the best, handy walks in Dublin, many of which are suitable for both young and old.

In the map above, you’ll get an overview of the different walking trails in the Phoenix Park, many of which are looped.

You best best is to pick one that’s either close to the gate you’re entering on foot or the car park you’re parking in.

2. Rent a bike and zip around

phoenix park bike rental
Photo by Akintevs (Shutterstock)

Phoenix Park Bikes can be found inside the main gate on Parkgate Street and offers bikes for all ages so you can take in the park along the extended network of 14 kilometres of cycle trails. You can also book in for tours – a two or three hour guided tour around the park, which includes stops to take photos, information on the park’s many features and a 25-minute film about the park’s history.

3. See the deer (never feed them!)

deer in the phoenix park
Photo © The Irish Road Trip

Deer have roamed the park since the 17th century when they were brought in for hunting. They are most often to be seen near the Papal Cross. Dogs should also be kept under control.

Deer can feel threatened by dogs, even when the dogs aren’t behaving aggressively, particularly during the mating or birthing months (September to October, and May to July).

We tend to always see the deer in the Phoenix Park over near the Papal Cross, however, it can often be pot luck whether they’re here or not.

4. Visit The Magazine Fort

magazine fort phoenix park
Photo by Peter Krocka (Shutterstock)

The Magazine Fort is in the south-east of the park on the location where Sir Edward Fisher built the Phoenix Lodge in 1611. The Lord Lieutenant of Ireland demolished the lodge in 1734 and ordered the building of a powder magazine for Dublin. An additional wing was added for troops in 1801. 

5. Take a tour of Dublin Zoo

Dublin Zoo
Photos via Shutterstock

Dublin Zoo has a long history – opening first in 1831 and founded as a private society by anatomists and physicists. It opened its doors to the public in 1840 when people could pay a penny to visit on Sundays. These days, the zoo is spread over 28 hectares and is managed by caring zoo professionals, keen to ensure the animals at the zoo are well cared for. The zoo follows strict codes of practice and supports conservation practices relating to great apes, tigers, rhinos, African wild dogs and more. It is home to more than 400 animals including lions, giraffes, meerkats, painted dogs, snow leopards and tigers. 

6. Explore Farmleigh House

Farmleigh House
Photos via Shutterstock

Farmleigh House is the official Irish State Guesthouse. This historic house is also home to important collections, an art gallery and a working farm, and is seen as truly representative of the late Edwardian period with tis artworks and furnishings. You will also find the Benjamin Iveagh collection of rare books, bindings, and manuscripts in the library here, and the estate has a walled garden to admire. 

7. See where the President sleeps

aras an uachtarain phoenix park
Photos via Shutterstock

Áras an Uachtaráin is the official and private residence of Ireland’s President. Guided tours of the house are organised by the Office of Public Works and take place on Saturdays, state/official business permitting. Tours are free of charge and last one hour and 15 minutes.

8. Ramble around The Wellington Testimonial

The wellington moneument
Photo by Timothy Dry (Shutterstock)

The Wellington Testimonial is a testimonial to Arthur Wellesley, Duke of Wellington, who is thought to have been born in Dublin. It was completed in 1861 and, at just over sixty-two metres tall, is the tallest obelisk in Europe. Around the obelisk, there are bronze plaques cast from the cannons captured during the Battle of Waterloo. Three have pictures representing his career, while the fourth is an inscription.

9. Or the equally huge Papal Cross

phoenix park walks
Photos via Shutterstock

Still in a need of a large monument to stare at? The Papal Cross is a large white cross that was put in place ahead of the Papal visit by Pope John Paull II in 1979. It is some 166 feet high and made from steel girders. When Pope John Paul II died in 2005, thousands of people gathered at the cross in tribute, leaving flowers and other items of remembrance. 

Places to visit near the Phoenix Park

One of the beauties of visiting the park is that it’s a short spin away from some of the most unique places to visit in Dublin.

Below, you’ll find a handful of things to see and do a stone’s throw from the Phoenix Park (plus places to eat and where to grab a post-adventure pint!).

1. Kilmainham Gaol (10-minute drive)

kilmainham gaol dublin
Photos via Shutterstock

Step back in time at the Kilmainham Gaol where many leaders of the rebellions of 1798, 1803, 1848, 1867 and 1916 were held and in some cases executed. During the Anglo-Irish War of 1912 to 1921, many members of the Irish Republican Army were also detained here, held by British troops.

2. Guinness Storehouse (10-minute drive)

Guinness Storehouse
Photo via Diageo Ireland

The Guinness Storehouse is a must-see for fans of Ireland’s most famous drink. Here, you will explore the history of Guinness in the iconic building that is spread over seven floors, with the Gravity Bar at the top, and Arthur’s Bar named after the beer’s founder. 

3. Endless other Dublin City attractions (10 minutes+)

marshes library
Photos via Marsh’s Library on Facebook

You’re not short of other attractions to visit and admire in Dublin, many of which are close by. From the Botanic Gardens (a 20-minute drive), the Jameson Distillery (a 10-minute drive), The Irish Museum of Modern Art (a 10-minute drive), Dublin Castle (a 15-minute drive) and loads more. And don’t forget that Dublin is the party city – restaurants, cocktail bars and traditional Irish pubs a-plenty.

FAQs about the Phoenix Park

We’ve had a lot of questions over the years asking about everything from ‘Why is Phoenix Park famous?’ (it’s one of the biggest enclosed parks in any European capital) to ‘Is Central Park bigger than Phoenix Park?’ (it’s not).

In the section below, we’ve popped in the most FAQs that we’ve received. If you have a question that we haven’t tackled, ask away in the comments section below.

What are the best things to do in the Phoenix Park?

Either rent a bike and zip around or take it handy and explore the expansive grounds on foot. You can also head off in search of the deer, visit the Zoo and much more.

Where can you park in the Phoenix Park?

In the past, we’ve found that the parking area over near the Papal Cross to be the easiest place to get a spot.

Where are the toilets in the Phoenix Park?

There are currently temporary toilets over in the Papal Cross car park. Hopefully these remain, as the toilet situation has been a joke for years.

Emma Baird is a lifestyle editor and novelist. She has worked in the communications industry for more than 25 years, and loves animals, the countryside and lingering in a great pub for the food and the craic.

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